This clear and accessible handbook introduces the nonspecialist to the physical examination of easel paintings and the historical and critical implications of such study. It takes the reader through the various layers of paintings, from support to varnish, and looks at information that might be attached to a painting?s reverse, as well as the physical circumstances of its display. The authors demonstrate how this knowledge contributes to a wide range of historical and critical approaches, including iconography, regional and colonial studies, examination of artistic intent, interactions among artistic schools, and the history of collecting and exhibition.The book offers the only comprehensive discussion available on materials, techniques, and condition issues in Western easel paintings from medieval times to the present. It includes detailed case studies of 25 paintings by artists from Giotto and Leonardo to Vermeer, Degas, and Pollock. The extensive illustrations are drawn from more than forty-five international museums; the artists represented range from a Byzantine master and a Mexican colonial painter to living artists, including Helen Frankenthaler, Jacob Lawrence, and Robert Ryman. The book will fascinate and benefit beginning or advanced students of art history and their teachers, as well as painters, collectors, museum docents, and conservators. Those who have known paintings primarily from books, slides, and photographic reproductions will be exposed to a new dimension of their study.